Johnny Copeland  “It’s Me – Classic Texas Soul 1965-72”  2-CD set (Kent CDTOP2 392)

by Pete Nickols

It’s Me; The Invitation (plus a demo); Blowing In The Wind (plus a demo); Dedicated To The Greatest; I’m Going To Make My Home Where I Hang My Hat (plus a demo); You’re Gonna Reap Just What You Sow; Wake Up, Little Susie (plus an overdubbed version); Mother Nature; I Waited Too Long (plus a demo); The Hip Hop (plus a demo); Four Dried Beans; Johnny Ace Medley #1; Stealing; Something’s Up Your Sleeve; That’s All Right Little Mama; Coming To See About You; All These Things; Something You Got; It’s My Own Tears That’s Being Wasted; Slow Walk You Down; Danger Zone; If You’re Looking For A Fool; Sufferin’ City (version 2 – solo); I Wish I Was Single; Why Don’t You Make Up Your Mind; Somebody’s Been Scratchin’ (duet by Johnny & Lilly); Sufferin’ City (version 2 – duet by Johnny & Lilly); Soul Power; Ghetto Child; Every Dog’s Got His Day; Wizard Of Art; Dear Mother; You Must Believe In Yourself; Love Attack; Old Man Blues; No Puppy Love; Johnny Ace Medley #2.

Johnny CopelandAt the end of my piece on this web-site entitled “Deep Soul – Towards A Definition” (see here) I actually feature the deepest side of Louisiana-born but, from his early teens-on, Texas-raised Johnny Copeland’s recorded output, because to me he represents that welcome rarity, a blues-man who, despite a tough, gravely vocal timbre, could interpret a gutbucket blues-ballad so soulfully that he successfully bridged the two genres. If you want repeated evidence of this, look no further than this very fine 2-CD Copeland compilation of chiefly Huey Meaux-produced material.

Firstly, however, what is not on these CD’s? Well from this period of Johnny’s long career, just 4 Atlantic and 2 Resco sides, to which one assumes Ace/Kent didn’t have rights. The missing Atlantic sides aren’t all that exciting, with Hurt, Hurt, Hurt probably being the best of the bunch; but on Resco there was the funky “Proving Time” and its excellent, deep flip, ListenLove Prayer, which is Johnny’s impressive re-working of the much-recorded “God Bless(ed) Our Love”.

Talking “deep”, all of Johnny’s deepest recordings (except for his Resco side) are indeed included on these CDs. Singling one out from another is time wasted as they are all first-class emotive soul-blues performances. In this category I would place Johnny’s fine tribute to Sam Cooke, ListenDedicated To The Greatest (which also names quite a few other black-music luminaries at its close); the funereally slow and hard-sung “You’re Gonna Reap Just What You Sow”; the organ-propelled blues-meets-gospel of ListenMother Nature; the poignant “Ghetto Child” (also released on Zephyr 101 as well as on the Kent 45 listed on the CD); “Every Dog’s Got His Day”; Dear Mother; and Johnny’s fine take on James Carr’s ListenLove Attack as well as the self-co-penned “Old Man Blues”, both of which were originally combined on the same magnificent-value US Kent 45.

The slow, moody soul-blues of “It’s My Own Tears That’s Being Wasted” is also mightily impressive, as is the waltz-tempoed blues-ballad “The Invitation”. “I’m Going To Make My Home…” is a great self-penned piece of tough blues with terrific vocal attack from Johnny, while “You Must Believe In Yourself” is a very potent, dramatic piece of slow-to-mid-paced soul. Also very gritty is the almost ominously intense blues, “Slow Walk You Down”, which Johnny co-penned with the very guy who first taught him the rudiments of the guitar, Joe Hughes.

Then there’s the New Orleans rather than Texas influence which is very obvious on items like “I Waited Too Long”, the bouncy would-be dance-crazer “The Hip Hop”, Allen Toussaint’s much-recorded “All These Things” (with Johnny’s intimate, front-of-mix vocal being almost reminiscent of Toussaint McCall) and Chris Kenner’s fine song “Something You Got”.

What’s more, many of the mid and up-tempo items on offer here also make for excellent listening. There’s the driving force of “Soul Power” with its Pickett-esque screams from Johnny, who also makes a very acceptable job of a pacy item actually associated with Pickett, namely “Danger Zone”. “Wizard Of Art” is an up-tempo paen to a woman with not a lot going for her except she just happens to be a wizard in the bedroom department, while  “Sufferin’ City” (which eventually also made it onto the Atlantic label) is a fine catchy, foot-tapping, driving piece of soul-blues. The duet version by Johnny & Lilly is also featured (Lilly being blues-singer Miss Lavell, sometimes also known as Lavelle White). This is OK but doesn’t really add much to Johnny’s solo version, while the same duo’s “Somebody’s Been Scratchin’” is a bit too ‘popish’ and ‘throwaway’ to my ears although still powerfully sung in an attempt, it seems, to ape the style of Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson. “That’s All Right Little Mama” is another good foot-tapper too but, frankly, Johnny had a cheek to claim penning rights to this barely-changed version of the Arthur Crudup (later Presley) “That’s All Right (Mama)” blues song.

There’s some fine guitar work to enjoy on these CDs too, most of it from Johnny himself one suspects and some pretty good piano-playing here and there too. Talking of piano, the one used on Johnny’s unissued-at-the-time tribute to Johnny Ace on his medley of Ace songs has an almost out-of-tune bar-room sound to it which actually suits the melodic mood quite well, although I personally don’t think Copeland sounds as impressive when using this less aggressive and assertive vocal style. It’s interesting though that “Pledging My Love” made it to the final 3-song medley, whereas it didn’t appear on the also-featured 4-song demo, which utilised two others.

Most of the other so-far unmentioned tracks are also well worth a listen, although I’m not hugely taken with the attempts to get Johnny to sing ‘pop’ on the ‘A’ sides of his Wand 45s, namely the jaunty Bruce Channel-penned title-track and the breakneck-paced interpretation of Dylan’s “Blowing In The Wind”. The deeper, slower, bluesier and obviously less-commercial Wand ‘B’ sides are aesthetically far better but I have to say I do have some regard for Johnny’s gravel-voiced, driving and surprisingly tough take on the Everly’s hit,  “Wake Up, Little Susie” (the released version being better to my ears - with its sparser rock-steady accompaniment - than the ‘overdubbed horns’ version which is also featured).

Most of the several demos included at the end of Disc 2 make for more historical interest than aural excellence but overall this 43-tracker is a real winner and will sit nicely on the shelves of both blues-lovers and soul-lovers as well as those, like me, who also enjoy the successful blending of the two styles. In fact, these CDs are more than good enough to surely spend as much time on the CD player itself as tucked away on the shelf.


May 2013